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The Natural ()

    All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say, 'There goes the greatest
    hitter who ever lived'.
        -Ted Williams

    Through the nausea Roy remembered an old saying.  He quoted, "Woe unto him who calls evil
    good and good evil."
           -The Natural

Roy Hobbs is, The Natural, a brash 19 year old baseball player whom the gods have favored with extraordinary athletic gifts, which they have however tempered with the curse of excessive pride.  As the novel opens, he is on board a train to Chicago with Sam Simpson, the scout who discovered him.  Their fellow passengers include Max Mercy, a famous sportswriter, Walter "Whammer" Wambold, a Ruthian slugger, and Harriet Bird, a mysterious beauty.  At an unscheduled stopover, Sam bets Max that Roy can strike out The Whammer on three pitches.  Roy succeeds, but the consequences are tragic for Sam, and ultimately for Roy.  Malamud sets Roy up as a knight errant, his bat a lance, sallying forth to do battle, but Harriet Bird distracts him from his quest, and Roy pays a horrible price.

Fifteen years later, Roy shows up in the dugout of the New York Knights and tells manager Pop Fisher that he's their new outfielder.  Pop is initially reluctant to utilize this unlikeliest of rookies, particularly because his dishonest partner in ownership of the Knights, Judge Goodwill Banner, has been foisting lousy players on him all season, hoping that if he can drive the team into the ground Pop will be forced to give up his share of the team. But fate intervenes and Roy is soon leading the Knights to a league pennant.  The team's sudden surge is particularly meaningful to Pop, a former player himself who made a costly misplay, "Fisher's Flop," that cost his team a World Series.  For Pop the pennant would redeem this blunder.

Over the course of the season Roy gets involved with Pop's lovely niece, Memo, and her friend, the gambler Gus Sands.  Eventually his desire for Memo, and his need for sufficient money to keep her in the style she desires, once again leads him astray from his quest.  Though he finally strives to redeem himself, and Pop, it is too late; the gods reveal that he has lost their favor when his hand hewn bat, Wonderboy, shatters in the final game of the season.  The natural gifts, which he has squandered pursuing, women, fame, and fortune, and the tool forged for him by the gods, Wonderboy, his Excalibur, desert him in his moment of trial.  He is proven unworthy.

When I first read this book, I hated it.  Callow youth that I was, it was unimaginable to me that a hero, and a baseball player to boot, would fail so utterly.  Older and, theoretically, wiser now, I can appreciate how Malamud has woven together Arthurian legend, the Homeric epic, numerous actual incidents from baseball history, and a surprisingly Puritan morality to create a real masterpiece, a uniquely American myth.

I'm still enough of a jingo to prefer the movie version, where Roy finds redemption in a typical Hollywood ending.  But I've really come to appreciate the harsh judgment that Malamud renders upon Hobbs for repeatedly choosing pleasure over principle and dissipation over dedication.  Roy does somehow deserve to be destroyed for not honoring the natural talent he has been blessed with.  Perhaps the difference is merely between the innocence of youth and the cynicism of age.  Or perhaps it's just a matter of having watched so many athletes like Daryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden destroy their lives.  Whatever the reason, I find this novel resonates more every time I read it.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Bernard Malamud (2 books reviewed)
Sports (Baseball)
Bernard Malamud Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Bernard Malamud
    -ENTRY: Bernard Malamud (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -VIDEO: To mark publication of the third and final volume of LOA’s Malamud edition, join biographer and editor Philip Davis and acclaimed writers Tobias Wolff and Nicole Krauss for a master class in “The Magic Barrel,” one of Malamud’s most brilliant and beloved tales. (Library of America, 4/24/23)
    : The magic of reading and rereading Bernard Malamud. (VIVIAN GORNICK, The Nation)
-REVIEW ESSAY: Hunger Games: Guts and glory in Bernard Malamud’s baseball novel (HANNAH GOLD, Summer 2022, BookForum)

Book-related and General Links:
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "bernard malamud"
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "malamud, bernard"
    -FEATURED AUTHOR : Bernard Malamud (NY Times Book Review)
    -LECTURE : Reflections of a Writer: Long Work, Short Life (Bernard Malamud, a "memoir" derived from a 1984 speech at Bennington College)
    -ETEXT : Armistice by Bernard Malamud (1940)
    -ETEXT : MY SON THE MURDERER by Bernard Malamud
    -INTERVIEW : For Malamud, It's Story, an interview about "The Tenants" (1971)(NY Times Book Review)
    -OBIT : Bernard Malamud, Author, Dies at 71 (March 20, 1986, MERVYN ROTHSTEIN, NY Times)
    -TRIBUTE : Pictures of Malamud (Philip Roth, NY Times Book Review)
    -PROFILE :  Bernard Malamud: Behind the Poker Face  (Alan Cheuse and Nicholas Delbanco, NY Times Book Review)
    -PROFILE : Bernard Malamud (Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York)
    -The Unofficial Bernard Malamud Home Pages
    -Bernard Malamud (American Literature 1860-present, Created and maintained by Dr. Renard Doneskey)
    -Bernard Malamud (1914-86) (American Literature on the Web)
    -FIND A GRAVE :  Bernard Malamud Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
    -BIBLIO : Bernard Malamud
    -ARCHIVES : "malamud" (NY Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES : "bernard malamud" (Find Articles)
-ESSAY: The Second Coming of the Sports Novel: Originally designed for preteen boys, the genre is now enjoying a renaissance with adult readers. How can sports fiction help us understand our twenty-first-century lives? (Andrew Schenker, JUL 11, 2024, Esquire)
    -ESSAY : Bernard Malamud's Anti-hero as Powerful Protagonist (Yoni Skupsky)
    -ESSAY : Bernard Malamud's Magic Barrel  : Analysis of Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel" (Frédéric Lardinois 1996)
    -SUMMARY : The Fixer
    -TEACHING GUIDE : Bernard Malamud (1914-1986)  (Contributing Editor: Evelyn Avery)
    -STUDY GUIDE : The First Seven Years by Bernard Malamud
    -LINKS : Bernard Malamud (
    -REVIEW : of The Fixer by Bernard Malamud  Yakov's Choice (ELIOT FREMONT-SMITH, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Natural by Bernard Malamud (Harry Sylvester, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Assistant (William Goyen, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Magic Barrel (CHARLES POORE , NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Dubin's Lives (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of God's Grace ( John Leonard, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of GOD'S GRACE By Bernard Malamud (Alan Lelchuk, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Stories of Bernard Malamud ( Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THE STORIES OF BERNARD MALAMUD By Bernard Malamud (Robert Alter, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The People and Uncollected Stories by Bernard Malamud (Bette Pesetsky, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW of The People And Uncollected Stories By Bernard Malamud  (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of the Complete Stories (WALTER GOODMAN, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : Oct 9, 1997 Alfred Kazin: A Single Jew, NY Review of Books
       Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Work
       The Complete Stories by Bernard Malamud and edited and introduced by Robert Giroux
    -REVIEW : The Complete Stories By Bernard Malamud (Roger Miller, Book Page)
    -ANNOTATED REVIEWS : Malamud, Bernard (Medical Humanities)

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Bernard Malamud (
    -INFO : The Natural (1984) (
    -BUY IT : The Natural (1984) DVD (